December 11, 2011

Riddled body leaves unsolved mysteries

Caesar Mandal, TNN | Nov 26, 2011, 06.03AM IST

JHARGRAM: Was Maoist politburo member Kishanji moving alone in the Jhargram forests when he was shot dead on Thursday? Where did his comrade Suchitra Mahato disappear after sustaining injuries? Where were his bodyguards when he was being hounded by CoBRA jawans? And finally why did Kishanji emerge from hiding at a time when the joint forces were in assault mode? These questions remain unanswered a day after his death.

Officers who led the operation said they had accurate information that a group of at least 15 heavily armed rebels, including Kishanji and Suchitra, had taken refuge in Burishole forest late on Wednesday after security forces surrounded them in Kushboni forest of Binpur block of West Midnapore, 9km from Jhargram town.

"Initially, they camped at Nalboni, a village in Kushboni. When the forces reached the village, they moved west, crossed Kongsaboti irrigation canal and took refuge in Burishole," said a senior CRPF officer on Thursday night.

The forces were hot on their trail and soon cordoned off the entire forest. Slowly, they pushed the rebels south west, where the forest ends at Burishole village. "We managed to trap them and they had no way to go. Kishanji hid behind this four-foot high anthill," said a CRPF commandant on Friday morning, pointing the blood-soaked spot where Kishanji's bullet riddled body was found.

It is hardly 50 meters from the end of forest where the village starts. Blood smeared soil, cartridge casings, splinters of mortar shells and bullets embedded in the anthill indicate the severity of the encounter.

The question is why was Kishanji the only one killed when he always travelled with armed bodyguards? A police officer said three more rebels were possibly killed and some more injured but there was no trace of them. Even sniffer dogs were of no help.

Police suspect Suchitra fled through the fields adjoining Burishole village, but no villager confirms it. "An hour before sundown we heard heavy firing in the forest close to the village playground. Police surrounded the entire village. We did not see anyone escape. Two village youths who went to the field were arrested," said Laksmi Mahato, a local.

Police, however, stuck to their theory, saying they recovered a laides' handbag with Sashadhar's picture and news clippings. "We suspect it is Suchitra's bag. She might have left it while escaping," said Jhargram SDPO Sumit Kumar.

If this is true, were Kishanji and Suchitra alone in the forest? Where did the others go?

On Wednesday, police said they had broken the first cordon of Kishanji's four-ring security in Kushboni jungle. How did he become alone the very next day? There is no physical evidence of any of his bodyguards putting up a last stand to save him. How could they disappear so quickly despite being surrounded?

Of late Kishanji was not seeing eye to eye with Akash, sources say. All the key Maoist leaders in Jangalmahal were aware of his arrival and movements. Sources feel that vital information about Kishanji's movement might have been leaked by some insiders who have been maintaining tacit contact with police.

The police raid on Wednesday might have forced him to move alone or only with his trusted comrade Suchitra. He might have been wary of his own men. Getting separated from his security platoon perhaps made it easy for the forces to hunt him down.

Most interestingly, a day after the encounter, police recovered some mattresses close to the spot where Kishanji died. "It was an open space. We fail to understand why he would stay at such place, even for brief period," wondered a villager.

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